Silent Hill: Revelation


Videogame or bondage fantasy?

Videogame or bondage fantasy?

(2012) Horror (Open Road) Adelaide Clemens, Kit Harrington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell, Malcolm McDowell, Martin Donovan, Deborah Cara Unger, Roberto Campanella, Erin Pitt, Peter Outerbridge, Jefferson Brown, Milton Barnes, Heather Marks, Rachel Sellan, Michel C. Foucault, Arlene Duncan, Jason Best, Jacky Lai. Directed by Michael J. Bassett

6 Days of Darkness 2015

Videogame adaptations have a history of being lousy movies. There have been some exceptions to be sure, but for the most part they have been awful cinematic experiences. Many gamers say that it is impossible for videogames – a truly interactive medium – to translate to movies which is a fully passive medium. Occasionally they are proven wrong, like in the case of the Silent Hill movie. Would the sequel be as good?

Heather Mason (Clemens) has, along with her father Harry (Bean) been on the run for as long as she can remember from dark forces that she doesn’t fully understand. Her mother Rose (Mitchell) is gone, taken in a car accident. As Heather approaches her 18th birthday, she is plagued by terrible, horrific visions. When Harry disappears, she discovers that nothing she knows is as she believes it to be.

The truth is that she is being chased by the Order of Valtiel, a cult that inhabits the damned town of Silent Hill which burns eternally. Years ago, a young girl named Alessa Gillespie (Pitt) was burned alive by the Order and its leader Claudia Wolf (Moss). The reason they are chasing them is that Heather, whose real name is Sharon Da Silva and who was once part of Alessa whose agony caused her to create the shifting dimensions that plagues Silent Hill.

Assisted by her boyfriend Vincent (Harrington), Heather decides to go to Silent Hill to find her father. Tormented by hideous, disturbing monsters that appear as dimensions shift in the blasted town which burns endlessly. There, she will confront the monsters of her past, present and future as she discovers betrayals that will rock her to the core and secrets that will change everything.

Christophe Gans directed the first Silent Hill but was unable to direct its sequel. Bassett, who directed Solomon Kane was instead hired and in all fairness to Bassett he was given a terribly convoluted script to work with. The problem is, he wrote it. There is a ton of exposition here and even that isn’t enough to really adequately explain what’s going on. The movie careens from scene to scene and often even with all the exposition it is incredibly confusing to the audience. The characters don’t have much going in the way of personality, particularly Vincent – and Heather, Harry and the rest aren’t much better.

The movie gets much better when it shows the monsters that are kind of a combination of Clive Barker bondage demons and H.R. Giger’s nightmares. Some, like the Red Pyramid or the cleaver-wheeling Nurses, are likely to haunt more than a few dreams. The blasted landscapes of Silent Hill and the other dimensions therein are also compelling.

The main problem though is not just that the movie is difficult to follow; the gravest sin the film commits is of being bland. There are plenty of flames but no fire; lots of shadows but no depth. Silent Hill: Revelation may have been originally filmed in 3D but the movie is flat as a pancake. The monsters, demons and landscapes are cool without a doubt but the movie left me actually bored and if there is one cardinal offense that a movie can commit it’s that.

I don’t know that gamers are correct in saying that their medium can’t be translated to one that is less interactive; after all, books and films are completely different mediums and there have been some great movies based on books. I think the problem lies in that Hollywood doesn’t really respect videogames or gamers and doesn’t understand the mindset; they basically throw videogame-based movies together without much regard to building a universe in the same way that they have for comic books. Videogames are inherently cinematic; there is absolutely no reason that they can’t translate to the multiplex. The fact is that a crap movie is a crap movie regardless of its source.

And Silent Hill: Revelation is far from being a crap movie. The videogame franchise has a rich background and is a good looking movie. Yes, it is terribly flawed – something tells me that Bassett didn’t really get the franchise or maybe he didn’t care to. This could have been a much better movie but it is at its core deeply unsettling and atmospheric. I would have liked a less convoluted story but from a simply visual point of view could admire the film on that basis alone.

WHY RENT THIS: Awesome demonic creatures. Bleak landscapes.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Bland characters and performances. Lacks force or fire.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and foul language, disturbing images and some brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bean and Harington played father and son in Game of Thrones; Harrington went on to work with Moss again in Pompeii.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $52.3M on a $20M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray Rental only). Amazon, iTunes, Flixster
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Resident Evil
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Six Days of Darkness continues!

Riddick


Vin Diesel practices his badass scowl.

Vin Diesel practices his badass scowl.

(2013) Science Fiction (Universal) Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo, Conrad Pla, Danny Blanco Hall, Noah Danby, Neil Napier, Nolan Gerald Funk, Karl Urban, Andreas Apergis, Keri Lynn Hilson, Charlie Marie Dupont, Jan Gerste, Alexandra Sokolovskaya, Antoinette Kalaj, Lani Minella. Directed by David Twohy

Some characters need to be on their own turf to really be effective. Indiana Jones, for example, is at his best in some ruined palace, searching for treasure; high society shindigs are not his thing. As for Richard B. Riddick, well, let’s put him on some forgotten miserable barely habitable rock in the middle of deep space populated by vicious, deadly creatures and we’re interested.

And that’s just where Riddick (Diesel) finds himself after being betrayed by Lord Vaako (Urban) of the Necromongers (from The Chronicles of Riddick which preceded this). The world is desolate, filled with carrion eaters, a jackal/dog hybrid and a slithering nasty that has a venomous sting on its scorpion-like tail and a penchant for hiding in standing pools of water. Riddick is left on this planet to die, his leg broken and without any supplies or weapons except for a tiny little throwing knife.

Riddick manages to set his broken leg the hard way and finds his way to a grassland which is a bit less predator-filled. He manages to tame one of the jackal/dog puppy hybrids and keeps it as a pet and watchdog. He survives for years this way.

When he sees a storm brewing, he realizes his happy haven is about to be overrun by the slithering nasties. He needs to get off this rock and fast. He’s found a mercenary outpost and presses the panic button, making sure that he is detected. Given the bounty on his head, it isn’t long before two sets of bounty hunters – one led by the sleazy Santana (Molla) with his brutish sidekick Diaz (Bautista), the other a group of mercenaries led by Boss Johns (Nable) who has a personal stake in Riddick. He is supported by the laconic Moss (Woodbine) and the aptly-named Dahl (Sackhoff), a lesbian with no time for Santana’s shenanigans and the ability to kick his ass to back it up.

As you might guess, the two parties begin feuding almost immediately and Riddick is forced to pick them off one by one. The storm is almost upon them and once it gets there, things are going to get really, really bad.

This is more of a throwback to the first film in the series, 2000’s Pitch Black more than its successor. That was more of a thriller than the space opera that was The Chronicles of Riddick. Neither movie did particularly well at the theatrical box office but both performed much better on home video. Of course, it’s taken nine years for the second sequel to hit the screen (has it really been that long?) and tastes have changed somewhat since then.

Diesel has been identified with this role in many ways more so than Dom Toretto from the Fast and Furious franchise. Riddick is in many ways the ultimate badass; he’s a survivor no matter how overwhelming the odds and it is a prudent man who is terrified of Riddick. Yes, he has had his eyes surgically altered so that he can see in the dark – an effect they used well in the first film but for whatever reason have shied away from ever since.

The rest of the cast is pretty much serviceable but then they really aren’t given a whole lot of personality other than the one-dimensional kind. Sackhoff, best-known to genre fans for her run as Starbuck in the highly respected Battlestar Galactica reboot on SyFy a few years back, shows some big screen promise; she’s got tons of charisma, oodles of good looks and plenty of chops to become the female action hero that has been sorely lacking in Hollywood.

The creature effects are pretty spectacular and all of the non-human monsters look believable and deadly. Even Riddick has problems with the slithering nasty and realizes that discretion is the better part of valor with those baddies (he spends some time developing an immunity to the venom but rarely takes them on head-on if he can avoid it). While the slithering nasties (called mud demons  by and large) aren’t quite as lethal in some ways as the creatures Riddick faced in the first film, they do resemble the titular Aliens in some ways.

There is a good deal of posturing and posing, that kind of testosterone-slurping “my balls are bigger than yours” competitiveness between the various Mercs and Bounty Hunters (including Dahl) which gets a bit tiresome over the length of the film. The film’s climax is also a bit of a letdown, lacking epic scope and originality. It just kind of ends.

Thanks to a pretty minuscule budget by sci-fi standards, it seems logical that the movie will make a tidy profit, making the likelihood of a fourth film in the franchise (fifth if you count the short The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury) pretty strong. That won’t bother me in the least; as anti-heroic as he is, Riddick is one of the more compelling characters to come along in the movies in some time. I wouldn’t mind seeing what else he gets himself in to.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific creatures. Extreme badassery.

REASONS TO STAY: Too much posturing. Denouement lacks excitement.

FAMILY VALUES:  Quite a bit of violence, some brief nudity and sexuality and a whole lot of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Diesel agreed to do a cameo in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift in exchange for the rights to the Riddick franchise in order to secure financing independently for the film.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/23/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Starship Troopers

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Act of Killing

R.I.P.D.


Gunfight at the OK Corral

Gunfight at the OK Corral

(2013) Supernatural Comedy (Universal) Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, Robert Knepper, James Hong, Marisa Miller, Mike O’Malley, Devin Ratray, Larry Joe Campbell, Michael Coons, Christina Everett, Michael Tow, Lonnie Farmer, Piper Mackenzie Harris, Ben Sloane, Catherine Kresge. Directed by Robert Schwentke

Just because we’re dead doesn’t mean there aren’t any rules. When you die, you depart this mortal coil and drift skyward into the next realm where you will be judged and your final destination assigned. A lucky – or unlucky, depending on how you look at it – few are yanked out of line because they have certain skills. They become part of an elite law-keeping force – the Rest in Peace Department.

Nick Walker (Reynolds) is a Boston cop and up until now, a good one. He and his partner Bobby Hayes (Bacon) stumbled onto some gold during a routine drug bust and now are keeping the stuff out of evidence. Nick, who wants to build a better life for his wife Julia (Szostak), is having second thoughts however. He just can’t bring himself to be a dirty cop. Bobby has no problem with it however and just to show Nick what a good sport he is about it he shoots him in the face.

Nick’s trip to judgment is interrupted (as you might guess from the first paragraph) and is yanked into a sterile-looking office where a bored-looking functionary named Proctor (Parker) basically tells him what’s what and offers Nick a 100-year contract with the R.I.P.D. Or, of course, he can go ahead and face judgment.

Nick isn’t quite ready for that so he accepts and is assigned to Raycephus Pulsipher (Bridges), better known as Ray – a cantankerous Wild West sort that would have been played (or at least voiced) by Slim Pickens a few decades back. Ray’s none too happy about having a partner – particularly a green-behind-the ears (literally) rookie. However, he shows him the ropes albeit reluctantly.

The job of the R.I.P.D. is to locate souls who had somehow stayed on Earth after death and bring ’em back for judgment. Apparently earth and death don’t mix and the souls begin to rot, developing a stank (as Roy puts it) that can be noticed by electronic glitches, unusual amounts of rust, rot, mildew and dead plants and of course human-looking people who when confronted with cumin suddenly transform into fleshy, putrescent masses of rot that have superhuman strength, can bound about like a kangaroo on steroids and generally wreak havoc. These rotting souls, which are called Deados, need to be kept from human attention in order to keep the universe in balance. Oh, and R.I.P.D. officers on Earth don’t look like their earthly selves; Nick appears to be an elderly Asian man (Hong) and Roy a smoking hot underwear model (Miller, who happens to be a smoking hot underwear model).

In a case of cosmic serendipity that only a Hollywood screenwriter could hatch, Nick’s first case involves a Deado named Stanley Nawlicki (Knepper) who – wonder of wonders! – has pieces of gold just like the ones Nick was keeping. That leads him to investigate his old partner who he still has some unfinished business with which leads to a conspiracy to turn the one-way portal to the afterlife into a two-way street using an ancient artifact (there are always ancient artifacts in these stories) called the Staff of Jericho which if activated will literally create Hell on Earth as the Dead overwhelm the living. Or it could just be this week’s episode of The Walking Dead.

Based on the 2001 Dark Horse comic of the same name, R.I.P.D. has a clever title and a not-bad premise to work with. Schwentke provides some pretty cool visuals, from the Men in Black-esque headquarters to the Ghostbusters-esque monsters. But therein is the rub – the visuals, while cool in and of themselves, remind you of something else. I don’t have a problem with borrowing – even borrowing liberally – from other visual looks but I don’t recall anything in the movie that looked especially unique.

Reynolds has gotten a lot of flack lately for his appearances in subpar movies (much as Ben Affleck did a few years back) which I think is patently unfair – Reynolds is charming and appealing but his character doesn’t really play to those strengths. Here he’s kind of grim and obsessive and that really isn’t his forte; when Reynolds is at his best he’s a bit of a smartass, like his work as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and when is his Deadpool movie coming out 20th Century Fox executives? We’re waiting!). Had his role been a lot lighter, the movie would have been better. Instead, he’s essentially a straight man for Jeff Bridges.

And there’s no shame in that. Bridges is a terrific actor and he hams it up here for all its worth, which is considerable. He goes on and on about having a coyote gnaw on his bones after his demise which gets a bit tiresome but then his character is supposed to be tiresome. Kevin Bacon knows how to be a smooth, vicious baddie and he pulls it off here.

The worst crime this movie commits though is a lack of energy. There’s no sense of fun here, like the cast and crew were performing a chore rather than having a good time. This is the kind of movie that should be made with a twinkle in the eye and a sly wink to the audience but you don’t get that sense here. The elements are all there for a really good summer movie but the whole doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. It’s not as bad as the critics say it is – but it isn’t as good as it could have been either.

REASONS TO GO: Clever premise. Bacon and Bridges do some fine work.

REASONS TO STAY: Feels flat. Derivative.

FAMILY VALUES:  A lot of violence, much of it of the Looney Tunes variety. Some sexuality and a bit of language (including some suggestive dialogue).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This marks the fourth film based on a comic book that Ryan Reynolds has appeared in to date.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/29/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 12% positive reviews. Metacritic: 25/100; the reviews were dreadful, coming as a surprise to no one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beetlejuice

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Fruitvale Station

Monsters University


Mike Wazowski gets an eyeful.

Mike Wazowski gets an eyeful.

(2012) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Nathan Fillion, Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, Tyler Labine, Aubrey Plaza, Bobby Moynihan, Julia Sweeney, Bonnie Hunt, John Krasinski, Bill Hader, John Ratzenberger, Frank Oz, Lori Alan. Directed by Dan Scanlon

College is a nifty place. While we’re there, we’re kind of in a neither-nor phase of life – our responsibilities are few but we get to hang out, goof off and drink beer at fairly unreasonable rates. Of course, we’re supposedly learning things as well but college often teaches us more about life than about the vocation we’re about to embark on.

Mike Wazowski (Crystal) has dreamed of being a scarer ever since he was a little eyeball. Now he’s a teenage eyeball with one eye on his future and one eye on his dreams which can be complicated when you only have one eye. Oh, in case you didn’t see Monsters Inc. which is the movie this is a prequel to, scarers are monsters who enter dimensional doorways into the rooms of children in the human world. Said monsters scare the little vermin into screaming and those screams are used to power the monster world. I say little vermin for a reason; to monsters, human children are toxic and to be avoided at all costs.

His roommate is James P. Sullivan (Goodman), an eight-feet tall furry blue Bigfoot who comes from a long line of scarers and as a legacy at Monsters University expects to sail through – he shows up at class without book, pen or paper. He is immediately snatched by the high and mighty ROR fraternity whose preppy devil of a leader, Johnny Worthington (Fillion) sees a kindred spirit in Sully.

Overseeing all of this is Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren), a kind of cross between a dragon, a centipede, a scorpion and the demon of Bald Mountain with a patrician British accent. She herself is an ex-record breaking scarer and started a Greek games kind of competition to discover the best scarer on campus.

Mike and Sully take to each other like Mariah Carey and Nikki Minaj, only more civilized. A rivalry forms between Mike, who is brilliant and hardworking but has no natural scariness, and Sully who has all the tools he needs but none of the drive or the work ethic. When their shenanigans get them expelled from the Scarer Program at MU, they realize that the only way back into the program is to win the Scare Games and in order to do that, they’ll have to join a frat. The only one that will have them are the misfits of Oozma Kappa, led by Squishy (Sohn) mainly because the frat house is his mom’s house; new student Don (Murray), an old school car salesman who after being laid off returns to college to get a better education and better life prospects, Art (Day) who looks a little bit like an I-Beam with legs and finally Terry (Foley) and Terri (Hayes), a two headed monster one of whom is a dance major and the other one isn’t. Leading these misfits to the title is going to involve making a team out of them but how can they when both Mike and Sully are way too involved in their own selves to create a team out of individuals?

First, this isn’t as good as Monsters Inc. although it really doesn’t need to be – in my opinion that is one of the best movies to come out of Pixar ever and it really never got the respect it deserves. This isn’t on that level but the good news is that it doesn’t need to be. This is a solidly entertaining effort with plenty of great visual gags and as is usually the case with Pixar movies, enough detail that the movie can be watched a whole lot of times without getting tired – while discovering something new each time you watch it.

Part of the secret to the first film’s success (and this one’s as well) is the chemistry between Crystal and Goodman. They make an excellent yin and yang and banter like they’ve been doing it forever which they kind of have. Both are naturally funny guys with Crystal the manic Borscht belt guy and Goodman the easygoing jock who throws off an occasional killer one-liner when you least expect it.

I have to say I’m not sure it was a good idea to do a prequel; I think that seeing the monster world after the events of Monsters Inc. would have made a far more interesting movie than this one was; the hoary old cliché of best friends starting off as worst enemies (and vice versa in the case of Randall Boggs, the chameleon-like creature voiced by Buscemi) – is there anyone in your life that you started out hating but then wound up as best buddies? Do you know anybody who has a friendship like that?

As their impressive weekend box office figures showed, a lot of families were just waiting on this film to come out and it’s likely to have a pretty strong two week run before Despicable Me opens up over the Independence Day holiday weekend. There has been a dearth of family films this year and it’s about time there was something moms and dads could go see with their kids to get out of the summer heat. Do be aware however that some of the littler kids in the screening at Downtown Disney that we attended had some problems with a couple of the scarier aspects of the monsters (Sully’s roar for example) and while most of the monsters are of the cute ‘n’ cuddly variety, if your child is extremely sensitive you might want to take that into account before going. After all, you can always get the Blu-Ray and let your progeny see the movie after they’re a little older. In any case, I think this is pretty much ideal summertime family entertainment so get your little rug rats dressed up and load up the station wag…err, minivan…and head out to the multiplex if you haven’t already. And maybe again if you already have.

REASONS TO GO: It’s Pixar – even their worst films are better than most animated features.

REASONS TO STAY: May disappoint those looking for something as good as Monsters Inc.

FAMILY VALUES:  Suitable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Pizza Planet truck can be found parked outside the ROR frat house during the party (it has appeared in every Pixar film since Toy Story). Also, the Professor Knights’ scarer 101 course takes place in room A113, a reference to the room at CalArts where animation is taught and another item that appears in every Pixar film

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/27/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100; solid reviews, the critics definitely liked it.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Accepted

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Sixth Sense

A Walking Tour of Hell


At the side of the road, the Jeep sat, steam and smoke rising from the engine. Fuck. Double fuck. I didn’t have to pop the hood to know that my reliable Jeep had run its last mile. Fortunately, the road was clear as far as I could see in both directions but it wouldn’t stay that way. Night would fall.

I had my backpack and my canvas bag full of what I needed just in case the worst happened – and it just did. I had plenty of fire power and as much ammo as I could carry, as well as my trusty katana sword for when the ammo ran out. The sun was high but night would come. Night was when they hunted.

I began walking north, always north. The probe had fallen in the south, two and a half years ago. It had crashed in the jungles of Central Mexico. NASA had sent it into the Dickering-Piedmont comet to pick up samples from the comet halo for reasons nobody fucking cares about except some science geeks who’d never gotten laid and were compensating by bringing in some alien biological material that fucked things up big time on the guidance system of the probe, causing it to malfunction and land thousands of miles from where it was supposed to. And that same biological material began interacting with the flora and fauna of the rain forest of the high plains, mutating them into hideous monsters each more ravenous than the last. Soon most of Mexico was overrun as mankind moved down a notch on the food chain.

At first the 100 foot high steel wall on the American border kept all the monsters in Mexico but the aliens were clever adaptors. Wings were sprouted an aggressive intelligent plants sent tendrils slithering under the walls, toppling them in some cases or popping up on the other side in others. The Southwest was an alien stronghold in less than 30 days.

But there was a limit. Apparently the aliens thrived only in a narrow temperature range. The cities in higher elevations and northerly latitudes survived. Elsewhere….let’s just say that those that didn’t leave the cities got eaten.

Yes, that’s right. These completely alien life forms that managed to survive in a comet halo found a taste for human flesh. It took a lot of biologists by surprise too (although not as much as the inhabitants of central Mexico who wound up as brunch for broodmares and psychobabblers – the names these things got were facetious at best and disrespectful at worst – but nonetheless it didn’t matter if you died in the fangs of a Gibbering Idiot or at the claws of a Razorslash. Dead is dead.

I kept my eyes open and my gun cocked and loaded. Although the visibility was excellent here – it always is along the Roads – there are things that can charge at 100mph like a Hell’s Pegasus or a Demonspeed. There are things that hide and things that adopt the shapes and forms of other things, like the Lurker and the Chameleon Beast. There are a million ways to die in the Infested Zone and here I was 50 miles from the nearest border.

I’ve walked in the Zone before but only with armed columns of men armed with big time bang bang and aerial support. The common school of thought is that a lone person in the Zone won’t last 24 hours. I’ve never heard of someone who walked 50 miles alone through the Zone and lived  to tell about it. Inside, I was screaming in fear but that wouldn’t do me any good. The only slender chance I had at survival was to stay calm, stay along the road and hope for the best.

I hadn’t gone 500 yards before the sweat began to pour. It wasn’t just the sun but deep down I knew that the odds are that I wouldn’t be around too long after the sun went down – and there were plenty of beasts that would do me in during daylight hours as well. I felt the shakes coming on – I’d seen a lot of good men die horribly at the hands, claws, stingers, fangs, pincers and venom of these things. I gave my own face a hard slap. I couldn’t afford panic. Panic makes people dead in the Zone, even in the company of highly trained soldiers. It was a fact that no matter how large, how well-armed the party that went into the Zone was, there would always – and I mean always – be at least a 10% fatality rate. Some battalions went in and were never heard from again.

I kept going at as fast a clip as I thought was safe. Part of me wanted to panic and sprint and keep sprinting but that would be fatal. Sooner or later I’d tire out and when that happened I’d be easy prey. My best defense was to be alert and focused. I scanned the horizons, keeping a hundred count on my steps and on one hundred I’d check the horizon behind me to see if I was being stalked. I kept that vigilance going for at least six miles.

It paid off, too. About 15-20 minutes in I heard a tell tale “ting-ting-ting” sounds coming from my eight o’clock. I turned to my left and saw it flying low over the hill. It was close enough that I could hear the buzzing of its wings. The Ting Ting knew I was there long before I knew it was there. It resembled a dragonfly with a kind of Dr Seuss-looking head  that had a long protuberance (kind of like a lily stalk) with a bell-shaped chitinous mass growing out of its end. It was from here that the ting-ting sound emanated from. For some reason the acoustic properties of the mass were stupendous – you could hear it coming from a mile away. Literally.

Ting Tings are impressive flyers but not really fine hunters – they really can’t sneak up on things. Humans can easily evade them and I did. It made a lazy pass in my general direction and rather than dive to the ground (which will get you killed; once you’re on the ground for any creature you’re not getting up) I waited until the last moment and leaped aside, a game of Infested Chicken. It went buzzing off, the ting-ting-ting of its bell ringing in my ears – Edgar Allen Poe, eat your heart out!

In fact, that’s how it immobilizes its prey; the sonic wave that it produces can actually cause temporary paralysis on certain smaller animals. On a human it can cause temporary deafness if the animal is large enough. This one was more of an adolescent sized which explains why a single one of them would take on a human male. This one had about a six foot wingspan – I’ve seen Ting Tings with spans twice that. It was making another pass at me which wouldn’t do at all – I couldn’t waste all day with a teenaged monster while there were other things lurking nearby that wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of tired-out prey.

I pulled out my trusty 12-gauge shotgun and took aim. Either this creature was too stupid to realize it was in danger or it was incredibly desperate. In either case I waited until it came close enough for a can’t-miss shot. BLAM! Ichor everywhere. Dead Ting Ting. Keep moving.

I did pick up the pace a little. The noise and the stench of the dead monster would bring others, including some Mama and Papa Ting Tings and those were large enough to kill a human adult. If they came at me one at a time I could pick them off all day but a swarm of them would be more than I could handle. I kept moving.

The Jeep, like any vehicle that is permitted in the Infested Zone, had a GPS system that keeps track of the local infestations. As the sun began to move further and further west, I heard the voice activated system in my ear – I’d removed the GPS and put it in my pack, linking it to my Bluetooth receiver. “Entering Ainsworth, Nebraska zone. Bad Emmetts and Devil Walkers detected here.

I cursed. Bad Emmetts were bad enough but easily avoidable; they hung out in trees and liked to drop down on their prey. They made little nests about the size of coconuts and secreted an acid out of their mouths that melted the bottom when they detected prey coming. They’d drop down onto their prey and burrow into them. They lay their eggs and as they do they secrete another liquid, this time causing full paralysis in the victim. Three days later their eggs hatch and a thousand Bad Emmetts eat their way out of the victim who is alive and fully conscious while it happens. It’s a real awful way to go and while I’m not exactly sure why it got the name, they are bad news indeed.

A Devil Walker is worse news. They are like a centipede on radioactive steroids. A Devil Walker is about a mile long and is all legs and teeth. They walk like a centipede but each segment has a mouth with mandibles that are sharp enough to cut through a tree trunk. Once spotted by a Devil Walker, a lone human is toast. They are far too big and far too fast to get away from and killing them is a waste of time; they can be killed but you have to kill every segment, not just the head and for full-grown adults it takes a rocket launcher to kill a single segments and an adult can have anywhere from 75-450 segments.

Needless to say, I’m not eager to run into one of those. The one advantage that I have over a Devil Walker is that they’re so big I can see them from far enough away to avoid them, but if I miss one and it crosses the road in front of me or behind me and it’s smell receptors (located just above their mouths) will detect me and I’ll be spending eternity being digested.

With the sun going down I had to be careful. In the dark Devil Walkers are much harder to spot. Still, keeping to the road would be the only way I could survive this and if I could keep to the road, I might live through the night. The problem is that there is no lights on the road – lights attract critters. For the same reason I couldn’t use a flashlight or a torch; for many of the creatures that’s just like ringing the dinner bell. I do have night vision goggles but they aren’t always helpful with far-off objects. Indeed, I’ll just have to keep my wits about me and hope I can walk the 50 miles before dusk of the second day.

Much of why patrols are still sent out is to pick up human stragglers like me and to make periodic “herd” thinning inroads so that the population didn’t get so large that the food supply would dwindle, forcing them to come north where the remaining people are. They don’t like the cold but it doesn’t kill them. At least, not as far as we know.

It was with a lot of relief I saw the river in the distance and realized I was approaching the Platte. I hadn’t seen any Bad Emmetts and only one Devil Walker but it was behind me, moving away thankfully. I hadn’t seen any up close and I wouldn’t mind keeping it that way.

The smugly emotionless voice of the GPS intoned. “Exiting Ainsworth, Nebraska zone. Now entering Platte-Keller Zone. Killfish, Deathshead Wolves, Yellow Terror, Lobstermen and Decapitators all detected here.” I swore quietly to myself. All of those were night feeders and it was well past dark.  I didn’t dare stay where I was – I was on flat prairie land and there was really no way to know if a Devil Walker was approaching.

But there was more forested land here. Trees. Places for things to hide. However I’d rather take on a thousand Lobstermen than one Devil Walker. However, my odds for survival in both cases were almost Nil. With a sigh I started my way into the Zone.

My hair was standing on end. I felt an unreasoning fear. I knew I was going to die and I was a sitting duck out on that road. Maybe if I got in amongst those trees I’d have a chance. They’ll offer some cover and…

I whirled around and started firing my rail gun into the trees. They exploded with a fiery bang and a shrieking Yellow Terror flew out and ambled away from the road. The monstrous creature had shaggy yellow fur and a half-formed face with large saucer-like black eyes, It had appendages but no recognizable hand or feet.

Yellow terrors aren’t physical specimens but they have powerful psychic abilities. They can project fear and curiosity and all sorts of emotions designed to get their victims to come to them. They really aren’t physical specimens but once their victims are near enough they have a spike like appendage in one and sometimes both arms that they stab their victim with which contains a toxin that stops the heart of their prey. They then drag their victim back to their lair and consume them at their leisure. They are easily frightened off.

I heard a bone-chilling howl and picked up the pace. Deathshead Wolves are the most dangerous predators that aren’t 50 feet tall. Like North American wolves, they hunt in packs. But Deathshead Wolves are far more vicious and deadly. Their skulls have no skin or fur – only gone with sunken eyes that are protected with a strong membrane that allows them to see much farther than terrestrial wolves.

They have razor sharp teeth that can tear chunks of flesh and entire limbs from their victims. They have powerful legs with sharp claws which they rarely use in an offensive capacity. No, they prefer to attack with their tails which have giant scorpion-like stingers which can be used as a sword and go clean through an adult body, or as a toxin which causes an agonizing feeling of pain that simply incapacitates their victims before being eaten of course. All these damned things eat us.

The woods were beginning to get closer and closer to the roads. Forested areas are far more dangerous than the plains. The trees can shelter and hide; things can attack without warning and the element of surprise can finish  you off. I looked at them nervously, dreading an explosion of fur and fang charging from the woods. I’m a pretty accurate shot but at night it is far more dicey to hit a charging animal than it is during the day.

Nothing came charging out though and I continued to move at a steady pace. Fatigue would be setting in; I took brief 5 minute breaks and sometimes slowed the pace a bit when there was more distance from the treeline. I had a long distance sniper rifle loaded with phosphorous tipped tracer bullets. Those were pretty lethal to anything that lived in this hellhole.

When I got to the Platte River it was nearly 2am and I was cold even in the warm clothes and armor I was wearing. I could see Killfish wriggling in the river from the bridge. I kept in the middle of the bridge – Killfish could leap high enough to grab someone from the side of the bridge and pull them down into the river. Also Lobstermen liked to hide under bridges and attack. I thought I could hear the clicking sound of their claws but so far none o those horrors had made their way out onto the bridge.

Crossing the Platte was nerve-wracking and twice I saw movement which led to shots being fired. I knew there were all sorts of things just under the bridge, but the sound of gunfire made them a bit more wary. However, near the end of the bridge I saw three of them emerging from under the side of the bridge. They were bipedal with large claws, two additional arms, a red carapace and a flat head with eye stalks protruding from the top. They were close so I pulled out my 12 gauge and blew off the heads of the first two. The third was on me before I could reload and was far too fast to outrun so I dropped the shotgun and pulled out the katana. The creature didn’t feint but came straight at me as most of these monsters always did.

I swung head on and severed one of it’s secondary arms. It shrieked, an unearthly sound but I’d been trained to ignore their noises. It came after me again and lost a claw for its troubles. When I took one of its eyestalks as well it decided to cut its losses and ran off but I knew its cousins would be making an appearance soon. Fortunately, I was close to the end of the bridge and crossed without further incident. When I looked back I saw a swarm of creatures including lobstermen feeding on the corpses that I’d created. Better them than me.

Daylight broke as I was passing from the Platte area and the terrain reverted to prairie. It would be a scorcher for sure. I began to think that I had a shot. After the bridge I’d seen a couple of Decapitators gibbering and lurching along like they usually do but I knew enough not to approach them. They lull their prey into thinking they weren’t a serious threat but once the victim came close enough they’d pounce and pull off their heads with terrifyingly lethal speed. They didn’t come any closer and I continued on my way.

The border was within reach. My feet ached and I was bone weary; I’d been walking for nearly 24 hours straight and I was conserving energy as much as possible. I was OK on supplies – my 12 gauge was gone but most of my other weapons were available, but that bag was getting heavy. I might have to lighten my load soon.

This was some of the more dangerous territory. Unkels roam this territory – ant-like creatures the size of a grizzly bear with a caustic acid that secretes from their mandibles. Not that hard to kill one at a time but they hunt in groups of hundreds and thousands.. You run out of ammo sooner or later and once that happens, they take you down to the nest and let the queen digest you. While you’re still alive from what I understand although how they figured that out I have no idea.

Some of the bigger monsters were out here, 50, 100 feet tall some of them. So tall they barely took notice of us humans but they could still crush us like a bug without even noticing. Many of my compadres have ended up a squashed bug on the bottom of their feet. And there were a few of the big ones who could be counted to take on a human battalion just for shits and giggles.

The day wore on and I was running low on water. I’d seen a few Pickle Groovers, little green buggers that love to find unprotected skin and burrow in. Get enough of them in you and that’s all she wrote but thus far none of them have been able to find a spot on me (thank God for head-to-toe body armor) and I was dripping sweat. I knew dehydration could be an issue but there was hope; on the horizon I could see the wall. I set my locator beacon on and hoped that someone was listening. Maybe they’d send a car out to pick me up. I started walking faster.

That’s when I heard it. The sounds of a thundering herd except it was no buffalo I was hearing. It was Unkels and from what I could see there were thousands of them. Heading my way, too. I said a few words that my mother were she still alive wouldn’t have approved of and started off at a gallop. I knew it wasn’t going to save me but there was a little rise a few hundred yards off. I could make my last stand there.

I wondered if the bastards watching this were enjoying the show. I figured there’d be no aid from the fuckers on the wall. I hope my horrible death would give them some entertainment.

I made it to the rise and ran up it, turning to watch the tide of Unkels heading towards me like a living carpet. I took out my Laws Rocket and clipped it into the shoulder launcher. I’d get only one of these before the herd reached me. I aimed it carefully and fired. A moment later fire and dirt and Unkel parts rained down from the sky. Calmly I dropped the launcher and pulled out my AK-47s, two of them and started firing. This was going to be some last stand. I didn’t let up and the pile of Unkel corpses had to be daunting for the Unkels although who knew if they thought anyway.

They were getting closer. 300 yards. 150. 100. 75. 50. I could smell the acid and I was down to my last clips on both the AK-47s. Then something amazing happened. The bastards turned tail and ran. I was so surprised I didn’t fire into the backs of the departing horde. I started to laugh. Maniacally. I was going to live. I was going to live! Then the earth shook and  I turned around and there was a Sentinel behind me, 150 feet high with a scythe like tail that was swinging for my head. Oh Shi–

Monsters


Monsters

Whitney Able discovers that blonds don’t always have more fun

(2010) Horror (Magnet) Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga Benavides, Annalee Jefferies, Erika Morales Yolanda Chacon, Javier Acosta Rodriguez, Victor Manuel Martinez Tovar, Walter Hernandez Col, Kennedy Gamaliel Jimenez, Romeo Arista. Directed by Gareth Edwards

The only monsters worth fearing are those of our own making. I don’t know who said it first but maybe it should have been Victor Frankenstein. If not him, maybe a politician we can be proud of.

Speaking of non-existent creatures, Mexico is full of aliens. Not the illegal kind – although they kind of are – I mean the E.T. sorts, the ones who get transported to planet Earth by a faulty NASA probe that crashed in Northern Mexico and hatched some extraterrestrial octopus-looking thingies that proceeded to take over Mexico. As if they didn’t have enough problems.

Samantha Wynden (Able) is the daughter of a wealthy American publisher. That publisher is the boss of Andrew Kaulder (McNairy), a reporter whom the publisher feels can safely escort Samantha through the infested zone back home (there are a few lapses in logic here but we’ll just smile and pretend it all makes sense). He’s loathe to do it but if he doesn’t he’ll be unemployed at a time where that’s not such a good thing to be. Not that there’s any era when it’s a good thing to be unemployed.

So of course they meet and they dislike each other. So yes he turns out to be a screw-up and deeply distrustful of rich people. So yeah they fall in love and wind up in bed. And of course this happens while their happy little trip collapses around them.

Gareth Edwards, the first-time director of this movie, does an impressive job with a pretty slender budget. He employs guerilla filmmaking techniques – shooting on location without permission with locals as extras and even actors. That makes this as authentic a movie as you’re likely to see.

While the concept isn’t particularly new, it is done in a pretty smart manner. This is a universe of corruption and desperation with the innocent people caught in the middle. You can say it’s an allegory of American immigration policies, although I think if so the references are ham-handed. This is not, despite the title, not a monster movie although you do see them from time to time. I think the thought was to keep them in the background for greater effectiveness but this sure could have used a little more monster and a little less romance.

There are only two actors with any experience in the movie and so they pretty much carry the movie and while they don’t disgrace themselves, neither do they seize the opportunity to deliver a career-making performance. I grant you, that can be hard to do when much of their performances are ad-libbed. Able is cute though and has enough charisma to lead me to believe she has a future ahead of her in the business.

The monsters, when seen, are mostly seen in grainy TV footage but they occasionally make devastating appearances. I wish they had a greater presence, but at the end of the day the real monsters weren’t necessarily from outer space. That’s what really makes the movie worthwhile.

WHY RENT THIS: Feels real. Every cent is on the screen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Weak acting in places. Underutilizes monsters.

FAMILY VALUES: The language here was alone responsible for giving this an “R” rating.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The only two professional actors in the film are Able and McNairy; the rest of the cast are locals who happened to be around when Edwards was shooting.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are several Q&A sessions with various members of the cast and crew at various conventions and festivals.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.2M on a $500K production budget; I’d call it an indie hit..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: And Soon the Darkness

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Day 4 of the Six Days of Darkness 2012

Hotel Transylvania


Hotel Transylvania

Count Dracula dispenses some fatherly advice.

(2012) Animated Feature (Columbia) Starring the voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Fran Drescher, David Spade, Cee-Lo Green, Molly Shannon, Jon Lovitz, Brian James, Luenell, Rob Riggle. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

 

Being the father of a teenage daughter is  a special kind of hell. We, as dads, know what the world is capable of and it’s natural to be a bit overprotective of our baby girls. Still, it must be way harder to raise a daughter in a world where the majority wants to kill off your entire species.

Count Dracula (Sandler) has more reason than most to fear the humans. While vacationing in Hawaii he met a beautiful vampire named Martha whom he married and had a daughter with. However, angry locals discovered that they had two vampires in their midst and set fire to the house. Dracula was able to rescue his daughter but not his wife. Enraged over the loss of his wife, he swears to protect his daughter from the real monsters and builds a castle in Transylvania that will be forever hidden from human view, a place where his fellow monsters can relax, retreat and be themselves. It’s Hotel Transylvania and every boy and ghoul is just dying to get there (couldn’t help it).

Operating on a strictly humans forbidden basis, the hotel becomes a success. Drac’s daughter Mavis (Gomez) is now 118 and getting restless with her protected lifestyle. She wants to live (which is a bit problematic for the undead), travel, see the world and experience everything. Dracula seems to be all for it at first, but this turns out to be a bit of a ruse.

All of their friends are gathering, from the henpecked Frankenstein (James) and his shrewish wife Eunice (Drescher) to the exhausted werewolf dad Wayne (Buscemi), his also exhausted wife Wanda (Shannon) and their brood of…I don’t know, say 150? – werewolf pups. Then there’s the coolest mummy ever, Murray (Green). They’re all gathering for Mavis’ birthday, an annual event.

Into this chaos rolls (or rather walks) Johnny (Samberg), a hiker who could pass for a surfer or a stoner or both. Rather than being terrified (although at first he does have a bit of a panic attack), he becomes fascinated by the monsters and one in particular – Mavis with whom he is instantly smitten.

Dracula is in a quandary. Not only must he keep his daughter safe from this human, he must keep the guests from finding out about him or else their confidence in their safety at the hotel would be compromised. The problem is that Johnny really isn’t a bad guy once you get to know him. And Mavis has developed feelings for him as well. What’s a dad – and the king of the undead at that – to do?

Tartakovsky, best known for his Cartoon Network classics Star Wars: Clone Wars, Dexter’s Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls tackles his first animated feature with an all-star cast and a much more detailed animation than you usually get on the hideously bad CN. It doesn’t hurt that he has an all-star cast to work with.

Sandler usually has a tendency to be over-the-top but here he’s actually fairly restrained. We get all of the things that are endearing about him and none of the things that are irritating. It’s one of his better performances in the past five years. He gives the overprotective Dracula a touch of humanity that many other performances lack. Yes this is a comedy and meant to be about as scary as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World but that doesn’t mean it has to be depth-less. Sandler gives the character a whole lot of reasons for us to identify with him.

Most of the other characters are given less to work with, although Samberg actually acquits himself nicely as the heart-of-gold stoner dude and Lovitz gets to go a little bit over-the-top with his Quasimodo chef’s role. Sadly, that’s about the extent of it. While there are plenty of in-jokes that adults – particularly those who love classic horror films – are going to chuckle at, there really isn’t much in the way of story which we’ve all seen more than once before.

The universe inhabited here is familiar and fun and makes internal sense. While the ending scene with the rap concert at Mavis’ party is unnecessary and simply awful, almost Disney Channel-esque in it’s bad rappery (Cee-Lo baby – you’re better than this, dawg) most of the rest is merely predictable. There are some fun little gags – like Dracula making a demonic face every time he is annoyed.

This isn’t groundbreaking or head-turning in any real way. It’s merely pleasant entertainment that will keep the kids satisfied and the parents won’t necessarily be squirming in their chairs waiting for the show to end. It will probably end up being a Halloween perennial, showing up on cable and later on broadcast TV every October without fail. In that sense it will become a classic because of repeated viewings but it will be one that while inoffensive isn’t necessarily a classic because of exceptional merit.

REASONS TO GO: Nicely drawn universe. Plenty of in-jokes for classic horror fans.

REASONS TO STAY: Story is kind of ho-hum. Rap scene at the end gratuitous and stupid.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few scary images, some rude humor and a bit of cartoon action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was released on World Rabies Day.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/8/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100. The movie is getting seriously mixed reviews..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mad Monster Party

MONSTER LOVERS: Among the famous movie monsters that make an appearance here are Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Werewolf, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, the Blob, the Fly and Quasimodo.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Hunt for Red October

Conan the Barbarian (2011)


Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Film reviewers piss Conan off....

(2011) Fantasy (Lionsgate) Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Said Taghmaoui, Ron Perlman, Leo Howard, Steve O’Donnell, Raad Rawi, Nonso Anozie, Bob Sapp, Milton Welsh, Laila Rouass, Nathan Jones, Morgan Freeman (voice). Directed by Marcus Nispel

There’s something about a barbarian in a loincloth that fires up the imagination. It brings to mind swords dripping with blood and gore, scantily clad damsels in distress, terrifying monsters guarding hordes of fabulous treasure and ancient cities surrounding a wizard’s citadel. Ah, fantasy…

The swords and sorcery genre was more or less created (or at least popularized) by Robert E. Howard back in the 1920s and 1930s with his character Conan the Barbarian (in the same way J.R.R. Tolkein essentially created or at least popularized the high fantasy genre). In 1982, the John Milius movie based on the Howard character launched Arnold Schwarzenegger into stardom. Will this 2011 version do the same for Jason Momoa?

Conan is born on a battlefield, literally ripped from the womb of his dying mother by his father Corin (Perlman) who cuts open the belly of his wife, yanks out the squalling baby and holds it before the eyes of mommy, who hangs around long enough to name him before expiring. Corin raises his son to the heavens with a roar which might be the only time Conan is ever going to be associated with a Disney animated classic (see The Lion King for reference).

Years pass and Conan grows into a young boy (Howard) who is taught by his blacksmith father how to fight. When the youths of the village are able to run a course in the countryside with a birds egg in their mouth without breaking it, they are considered worthy of becoming warriors for the clan. On such a day, they are attacked by a group of other Barbarians (these who are apparently mute and make a hideous animal roar) but young Conan takes out four of them without scarcely breaking a sweat let alone an egg. For this his father forges him a magnificent sword.

Unfortunately, Conan never gets a chance to use it. The tribe is attacked again, this time by the army of King Khalar Zym (Lang) who is after the shard of a magical mask that gives the wearer unspecified but unlimited power. With the help of his sadistic sorceress daughter Marique (McGowan), the shard is found and Khalar decides that Corin needs a molten iron facial. His son tries to save him but winds up failing.

Flash forward a decade or so and Conan has grown up into a big strapping man (Momoa). He roams Hyboria thieving and wenching with Artus (Anozie), an irascible pirate who is something of a mentor to Conan. When the bar Conan and Artus are drinking in are raided by the local constabulary, Conan notices that the man leading it was one of the soldiers who destroyed his village and helped murder his father. After Conan gets the information he wants, he rescues a thief named Ela-Shan (Taghmaoui)  and heads out to a monastery where Khalar is apparently looking for a virgin of the True Blood (i.e. descended from ancient sorcerers) to sacrifice in order to activate the mask.

Said virgin is Tamara (Nichols) who the abbot Fassir (Rawi) sends away in a desperate attempt to save her, even though the monks and monk-ettes are massacred. Khalar’s baddies are about to capture Tamara but Conan saves the day. The two take an instant dislike to one another which in Hollywood-speak means that they’re going to be madly in love by the end of the picture.

Still, Khalar will stop at nothing to get his hands on the girl. Conan will have to battle through every manner of deadly creature, both man and beast, in order to save the girl and finally get his revenge.

Conan is one of the most enduring characters in pulp literature. Howard’s stories and novels have been in print nearly continuously for over 80 years, and his mythos has been added to and expanded upon by nearly every medium imaginable, from graphic novels to videogames to movies. He represents the primal male attributes, as he shrugs “I live. I love. I slay. I am content” at one point in the movie.

Momoa is going to inevitably be compared with Schwarzenegger and he acquits himself surprisingly well. Those who saw him as the brutal, brooding Khal Drogo in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” might be surprised at his range. His Conan here is a little bit more easygoing than Drogo; to be honest I’ve always pictured Conan as more like Drogo; dark, quiet, likely to let his actions speak louder than his words. This Conan is engaging and funny. Momoa doesn’t quite have Arnold’s natural charisma, but he certainly has potential to be a big star.

His supporting cast blows hot and cold.  Lang gives an over the top performance that borderlines on the ludicrous, while Perlman, who is forced to wear the most ludicrous beard in cinematic history, does a fine job as Corin. Young Leo Howard does a nice job as young Conan and is literally spectacular in his own fight scenes. In some ways he outdoes Momoa.

Nichols is uncommonly pretty, although she looks a little more modern in some ways. I think she was just a little bit miscast here, but she makes a good effort. McGowan is terrifying as the witch which is what she’s meant to be but sometimes she seems almost TOO crazy.

Most of the problems I have with the movie is that they don’t really capture the spirit of the Conan stories. Howard’s stories are generally dark and dank, with monsters that are beyond imagining. Here the monsters are rather pedestrian; there are sand warriors that reminded me of similar creatures in The Mummy Returns and an octopus like creature that is all tentacle and CGI mayhem. Nice enough but not particularly groundbreaking.

This is entertaining enough, but it isn’t the movie it could have been. I would love to see more direct translations of Howard’s work to the screen but it hasn’t happened yet. As to those critics who wonder if the world needs an another Conan movie, the answer is far more than we need another quirky indie romance. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against indie films of any sort. It’s just we have had plenty of great indie films and no great Conan movies yet.

And there’s a need for them. Good entertainment is hard to find, for one thing. The swords and sorcery genre has yet to live up to its potential, but there is a lot to explore there. This movie tells me we’re not ready to yet, or at least Hollywood isn’t. I guess I’ll just have to wait awhile longer for my Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser movie.

REASONS TO GO: Momoa is actually awfully likable and charismatic. Early fight scenes are well-staged.

REASONS TO STAY: Movie loses momentum in last third. Doesn’t capture feel of Howard’s stories.

FAMILY VALUES: As you might expect there is a whole lot of violence, blood and gore; there is also a fair amount of nudity and sexuality as well, and some disturbing monsters.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ron Perlman, who plays Conan’s father, voiced Conan in a videogame and also the unreleased animated feature Conan: Red Nails.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the vistas should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Fright Night (2011)

Resident Evil: Afterlife


Resident Evil: Afterlife

A triple treat for Milla Jovovich fans!

(2010) Sci-Fi Horror Action (Screen Gems) Milla Jovovich, Aly Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Spencer Locke, Boris Kodjoe, Wentworth Miller, Sienna Guillory, Kacey Barnfield, Norman Yeung, Fulvio Cecere, Ray Olubuwale.  Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

The term “popcorn movies” refers to movies that are kind of lightweight, don’t require a lot of thought and are thoroughly entertaining. For some critics, popcorn movies are a dirty word. For moviegoers however, they are often the reason they go to the multiplex in the first place.

Alice (Jovovich), the superhuman T-virus recipient of the Umbrella Corporation, invades their Tokyo facility with a small army of her clones in order to take out Albert Wesker (Roberts), the malevolent CEO who unleashed the horror of undead flesh eaters on the world and effectively instituted Armageddon.

Wesker escapes but not before infecting Alice with an antidote to the T-Virus, effectively taking away all her superhuman attributes and rendering her human once again. At a crossroads, she decides to fly to Alaska to link up with the friends she sent up there to find Arcadia, the reputed safe haven for non-infected humans. Instead, she is attacked by her friend Claire Redfield (Larter) who has a strange device strapped on her. Alice manages to defeat Claire and take off the device, but Claire has lost most of her memories of what happened to her teammates that went up there with her.

They decide to follow the Arcadia signal which is now down in Los Angeles. There they find a group of survivors in a high security prison surrounded by zombies. The ragtag band is led by Luther West (Kodjoe), a former pro basketball player. Among them is Bennett (Coates), a self-centered former film producer, Yong (Yeung) his assistant, Crystal Waters (Barnfield), a former actress, Angel (Peris-Mencheta) a mechanic and incarcerated in the prison, Chris Redfield (Miller), Claire’s brother (small world, ain’t it).

Alice finds out that Arcadia is actually a tanker that has been moving up and down the West Coast, picking up survivors as it goes along. The plan is then to get themselves there and try to make it past the horde of survivors that surrounds them, among whom is the Executioner, a gigantic zombie carrying a gigantic hammer.

Chris claims to know an alternative way out. First, they would need to get a mobile infantry vehicle ready which Angel, Bennett and Yong are tasked to do. Second, they would need to reinforce the front gate to buy them more time to get ready, which is Luther and Claire’s job. Finally, they needed weapons and Chris, Crystal and Alice go to the armory to retrieve them.

However, their time is running out. Zombies are beginning to find ways into the prison through the sewers. The gates are failing. They are about to be betrayed from within. And once they make it to Arcadia, what is it that they are going to find there? New hope? Or a new betrayal?

Anderson, who directed the original Resident Evil and has written or co-written all of the movies in the franchise, returns to the director chair for the second time and takes the series, which had begun to look moribund after the last two movies, and revitalizes it. The action moves at a frenetic pace here and the opening Tokyo sequence is one of the best in the entire series in terms of mayhem.

One of the main reasons for seeing any of the Resident Evil movies is Jovovich. She is a genuine action star, as good as Linda Hamilton in her day or Angelina Jolie currently. Jovovich does most of her own stunts, but also is beautiful and charismatic onscreen. Going back to her days in The Fifth Element she has become one of the more reliable actresses when it comes to action movies. She’s also capable of dramatic acting, although she doesn’t get many of those sorts of roles these days.

I might have liked to have a bit more exposition in terms of some of the mutant zombies. The Executioner, for example, just shows up at the prison gate. How did he get so huge? What’s his backstory? Gamers might know the answer, or they might not care but a movie audience requires a bit more substance.

The movie kicks ass, which for the most part is all anybody picking up a disc or streaming it is after. Who’s gonna argue with a small group of attractive people kicking zombie and monster ass? Not me, I can tell you. The movie works the way it’s supposed to and leaves room for a sequel that brings back Jill Valentine (Guillory), reason enough to make fans of the series giddy. Although a giddy gamer can be a site far more terrifying than any flesh eating zombie.

WHY RENT THIS: High octane action and Jovovich make a lethal combination.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not a lot of character development and monsters show up without explanation other than for kick-ass value.

FAMILY VALUES: Big time violence, some fairly foul language and a few disturbing images make this one I’d think twice about showing to smaller kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first film of the series to be released in IMAX and also the highest grossing film of the series to date.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While there isn’t much on the DVD in terms of extras, the Blu-Ray has a trivia track as well as a picture-in-picture feature (Undead-Vision) that is one of the better of these type offered. There’s also a nice nod to the gamers who make up the core of the RE audience with a feature on them called “Pwning the Undead: Gamers of the Afterlife.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $296.2M on a $60M production budget; the movie was a big hit.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Captain America: The First Avenger

Skyline


Skyline

The great thing about this apartment is the view.

(2010) Science Fiction (Universal/Rogue) Eric Balfour, Donald Faison, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, David Zayas, Crystal Reed, Neil Hopkins, Robin Gammell, Tanya Newbould, J. Paul Boehmer, Byron McIntyre, Johnny DeBeer. Directed by Colin and Greg Strause

The legendary DJ Casey Kasem used to sign off with the same line – “keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Little did he know that someday, something would reach back. 

Jarrod (Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Thompson) fly from New York to Los Angeles to visit Terry (Faison), Jarrod’s childhood friend, on the occasion of his birthday. Terry has made good as a Hollywood producer and has a sick penthouse in a Marina Del Rey high-rise from which he views his kingdom.

Elaine reveals to Jarrod that she’s pregnant, which might be a good thing except Terry’s just offered Jarrod a job that would of course require him to move from the East Coast to the West. Elaine is none too happy about this development because apparently success would be a downer. In any case, they go ahead and party with Terry’s friends, including his bitchy girlfriend Candice (Daniel), his lovesick assistant Denise (Reed) and his overbearing buddy Ray (Hopkins). The party gets a bit boisterous, causing security guard Oliver (Zayas) to knock on the door where he gets a belly full of bitchy attitude courtesy of Candice.

Later that night, they are awakened by an earthquake and bright lights outside the building. People who stare at these lights become mesmerized and feel compelled to walk into the light where they’re levitated off of the surface of the Earth. We know this because it happens to Ray and almost happens to Jarrod who is pulled out of the light at the last moment by Terry but not before Jarrod got all vein-y and crap.

After that, all Hell breaks loose. The lights go away briefly, only to reappear, this time accompanied by gigantic alien space vessels bristling with appendages and looking very bug-like. Jarrod and Terry go to the roof to get a better look which turns out to be a really bad idea since Jarrod manages to lock the door behind them and only timely intervention from Elaine gets them safely off after the big alien space vessels disgorge thousands of little probe vessels that look like those tentacle things in The Matrix and are quite adept at sucking individual people off of roofs and, as we later find out, out of windows as well.  

Terry thinks their best bet is to get out of Dodge, preferably by boat since none of the alien vessels are over water. They get into their expensive cars and prepare to drive to the nearby Marina when they are literally stomped on by a giant alien bio-mechanical beastie. Wonder how they’re going to explain that one to the insurance company. They decide to make a run for it back to the penthouse, joined by security guard Oliver who saves them at the last moment from an alien beastie who is slightly smaller than the last one. You’ve seen one alien beastie, you’ve seen them all.

Up to this point, it’s been a pretty good movie. The alien beasties are well designed, the effects shots realistic and while there were a few glitches, the story was moving along at a pretty good clip. Unfortunately, the writers wrote themselves into a corner; much of the rest of the film involves the lot of them sitting around the apartment with nothing better to do but whine and snipe at one another. In other words, they’re essentially sitting around waiting to get sucked out.

It’s a shame, because quite frankly this was a bit of good filmmaking up until that point. The Strause brothers, who have extensive effects experience, utilized some cutting edge technology to make the movie for a bargain basement $10 million, financing the movie essentially themselves. The good news is that it won’t take very much for them to see a profit. The bad news is that the movie has been getting scathing reviews, both word of mouth and online and may not even make back its production costs.

Much of it has to do with the writing. I am not sure why, but there seems to be this belief in Hollywood that when characters are written for science fiction movies, they either have to be too good to be true or too stupid to be believed. The mostly television cast (who have day jobs on such series as “Dexter,” “Scrubs” and “Haven”) do decent jobs but aren’t given a whole lot to do beyond whine, bitch at one another or have fake blood poured over them.  

With an ending that is mind-boggling in its “Really?” factor, Skyline starts off strong and then takes a rapid plunge for rock bottom. While they clearly are setting up a sequel, I can’t imagine anyone who’ll want to see it. Once you’ve wiped out the Earth, what do you do for an encore?

REASONS TO GO: The first half of the film is actually pretty good. The imagery is effective and the aliens are pretty imaginative.

REASONS TO STAY: The second half of the movie jumps the shark. Once they return to the apartment, everything goes sliding downhill like an avalanche, gaining momentum until it hits bottom or the movie ends, depending on your point of view.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a whole lot of violence, a great deal of gore, some disturbing images and more than its share of goo. In addition, the language is pretty foul and there is a bit of sexuality involved here. This isn’t for the little ones in any way shape or form and a lot of the big ones shouldn’t see it either.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed almost completely at co-director Greg Strause’s Marina del Rey condominium.

HOME OR THEATER: The alien vessels look better on the big screen, with the sound effects sounding better on a big theater system.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Flawless